writes copy 17 Oct 2018

10 lessons from Marketos growth to a multibilliondollar exit

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With Adobe's acquisition of Marketo, I have been reflecting on what an amazing and pioneering company Marketo has been since it was founded in 2006. There are very few tech companies that have defined a new category, executed a successful IPO, been acquired by a private equity firm for more than four times the company's initial IPO market value and now, at a price of $4.75 billion, become the largest acquisition of a world-class company like Adobe.

The credit for this dream-come-true Silicon Valley company goes to the co-founding team of Phil Fernandez, Jon Miller and David Morandi, who together built an amazing customer-first product, defined a breakthrough category and launched a marketing automation company that continues to delight and amaze partners and customers alike.

I had the unique pleasure of meeting the founding team in 2006 when they shared their vision and passion for marketing automation. At the time, all they had was a PowerPoint deck. But it was clear then that they had a special idea and the unique capability to build a breakthrough product to deliver on their vision.

In all honesty, I couldn't know how truly extraordinary the company would become. Thankfully, I was lucky enough that the team chose me and my former partner Bruce Cleveland as their first investor and also was fortunate to serve on the board for 10 years. Most recently, I was thrilled that  Phil joined me at Shasta. One of the qualities I admire most about Phil — which was apparent all those years ago and continues to this day — is that he never stops iterating to do things better or faster or more efficiently or more thoughtfully. Phil always carried a notebook that said 'œTHINK' on the cover, which epitomizes how he approaches his work.

Phil recently shared his 'œ10 Things I'd Do Even Better If I Did It Again' presentation with our team and our founder/CEO community. We believe his insights are 'œ10 Must-Dos' for today's software entrepreneurs. It's hard for entrepreneurs to know the trade-offs required when making the tough decisions — especially early on ­– but what follows is what I learned from Phil, and the key takeaways from his talk that I believe can help more founders create iconic companies with lasting value.  (Note: Click here to view excerpts of Phil's talk.)

Have one person own revenue

If your company is like every other company, there are two executives — vice president of Sales and the chief marketing officer — who are regularly locking horns because they are each tasked with taking different approaches to the same goal of increasing revenue. How do you solve this?

Hire a chief revenue officer (CRO) who can see both perspectives, plus give the context that sales and marketing are missing.  This seat understands the big picture and doesn't belong in marketing or sales. The CRO needs to talk strategically about life cycle revenue — across the customer journey. She or he should be a storyteller who can look at the numbers and the models and explain it all in plain English to the executive team so that everyone understands. Like a chief people officer, you're going to have to spend on a CRO — but it's worth it in the long run.

Hire a chief people officer (CPO) ASAP

Your company needs a leader of “all things people” who can make sure your workplace is welcoming, diverse and responsive to employee needs. For the staff to have trust, this person needs to be in a role that is empowered by the organization and not just by the CEO. Hire the most senior, overqualified HR executive into your business as early as possible — Series A level — and have him or her report directly to the CEO. By constantly listening to people — which is really hard when you're working really hard — the CPO will help build your culture and be the eyes and ears for the CEO. Investing early in HR will come back to you tenfold through employee retention, team morale and an enviable culture.

Give back when it makes no sense

The day you think you've got to get a product release out the door and there's no time to do anything else is the day you get out and give back in whatever way makes sense for your company and your community. Give employees time off to volunteer. Pick a cause for your company to support. Or, consider starting a charitable foundation with pre-public stock. It will create a spirit and energy that will give back to your team five or 10 times whatever it is costing you.

Charge your first customer

Phil personally wrote a stupid thing on their website that said, “At Marketo, your success doesn’t have a price.” That copy stayed up for years as a testament to how customer-centric they were. They were proud that they weren't charging for services. But as Phil said, that was a big mistake; they should have been charging from day one.

When you're a startup, short-range thinking is seductive, but long-range thinking is powerful.

There really isn’t any friction about asking customers to pay for services. If you say, “Look, this product is great. It’s going to transform your business but it’s not easy and it will cost money,” they will spend it. Feature-level sales is a great way to justify why you are charging what you are charging, and it keeps customers renewing services and adding more features as their business grows and changes. To make this strategy work, gear your sales metrics toward incremental increases over time ­ instead of pushing sales reps to sell as much as they can all at once.  Customers will pay for quality products that meet their needs.

Build a world-class Rev Ops/Sales Enablement team

You need a VP-level Rev Ops/Sales Enablement executive by the time your company reaches $2-3 million in revenue. That individual must think holistically about how revenue is happening, from the early lead in the door and the sale to renewal and the up-sale; understanding full lifetime value and thinking about it in a modeling sense. She or he needs to be a storyteller — one who can look at the numbers, look at the models and then explain it in plain English to the executive team. That's gold.

Focus on continuous ARPU expansion

Today, to increase ARPU (average revenue per user), you need to design feature-level packaging every bit as much as how you design product functionally. The same people on product management ought to be thinking together with Rev Ops and Sales about how you dish out the product, how you launch the pieces, how you turn on pieces and how you enable pieces. It becomes a part of the art of product design as much as the art of revenue design — and that's where these two rules of thought really come together. Basically, you need to design an expansion pass.

Incubate new product initiatives

Marketo failed in defining a multi-product company, from when it was $30 million a year to when it was $300 million a year. If you're going to bring a second product line into the company — whether it's organic or inorganic — it needs to be incubated. It needs to have its own dedicated sales team and its own separate quotas. If you’re thinking about becoming a multi-product company, do not pass Go, do not collect $200; go read Geoffrey Moores’ Zone to Win, the only business book Phil has ever recommended.

Pursue constant technology renewal

The pace at which tech is moving and the competitive advantage that new tech is providing over old tech has never been like this during the past 35 years. Today, you need someone that’s charged with thinking not about product but about the future. You need to value technical currency. If you’re three years old on your technology and a new company enters your market — the degree of agility, pace and performance the new entrant has in running circles around your company will win over a five-year cycle. Every time.

Always be seeking more TAM

No matter how good your initial tenure is, no matter how good it feels, no matter how amazing you see your company, as the CEO, as a leader, have a Plan B. Know what’s next, know where you’re going next and make sure you’re always talking about it. Be absolutely zealous about ensuring you know the next piece of TAM you’re going to go after. Think about what’s going to happen if you have more money; what would you do next? Give yourself that opportunity to dream, but make it real, make it defensible.

Watch the clock during scale up

When you're a startup, short-range thinking is seductive, but long-range thinking is powerful. Always be watching the time. The tension between operating leverage and scale-up investment is really dangerous. At Marketo, they got to it late and their growth slowed a little too much. Live in the real world and focus on cash and on making the investments so you have the capacity when you need it. Have a long-range planning process and understand the day when you'll need $2 million of ramp capacity. Don't let the tyranny of a seductive short-range model triumph over what the real world is telling you about the dynamics of growing the business. Understand what it takes to really scale.

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